Beacon Press: The Pentagon Papers 35th Anniversary
Beacon Press & the Pentagon Papers
On October 22, 2006 Beacon Press commemorated the 35th anniversary of
publication of The Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papersthe
first full edition of the top secret Defense Department studies that exposed
decades of U.S. decisionmaking in Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers & UUs | Beacon
Press & The Pentagon Papers | History
| Relevance to Today | What
people said about The Pentagon Papers and Beacon Press | Videos,
Audio Files, Documents, & Photos
"There's nothing comparable to The Pentagon Papers today
would blow the whistle on what are the secret things that are being said
and done by the government in the so-called war on terrorism
be very nice if somebody did for what is happening now, what Ellsberg
and Russo did, and what Beacon Press did, at the time of the Vietnam War."
Pentagon Papers & UUs
The Pentagon Papers
Then and Now: Unitarian Universalists Confronting Government Secrecy:
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman moderated a panel at General Assembly
with Dan Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel and Former UUA President Bob
West on the role of Beacon Press in publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Beacon Press & the Pentagon Papers:
"Democracy is always a work in progress and unlike monarchies and dictatorships,
free governments must change as public needs change. But leaders of democracies
are not immune to the temptations of secrecy and deception of voters. If they
succeed the results are abuses, arrogance and uncorrected errors. Publication
of the Pentagon Papers, exposing White House secret cables and official
lies, are a textbook of the penalties that follow secret government. They remain
a warning that every generation must protect its own constitutional liberties.
Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers is a message for our time".
Ben H. Bagdikian, author of The New Media Monopoly
Read Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers, a Master's
Project submitted to Emerson College, by Allison Trzop, in May of 2006.
In 1967, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara assembled a team of analysts to
draft a "full history of U.S. decisionmaking on Vietnam from the early
1940s through March of 1968." Thirty-six men, many of whom remain anonymous,
worked on the Study Task Force. One known member was Daniel Ellsberg. Disgusted
by the disparity between the internal policymaking he saw and the lies being
spoon-fed to the public, Ellsberg began smuggling the documents out of his safe
at the Santa Monica-based think tank Rand Corporation in October of 1969.
Ellsberg first leaked copies of the papers to the New York Times, which
began publishing excerpts in June of 1971. During what is popularly known as
"The Day the Presses Stopped," the Times was enjoined to halt
publication, as was The Washington Post. The two newspapers appealed
to the Supreme Court in New York Times Co. vs. United States. They won,
and established important legal precedent against the government imposing prior
Ellsberg demanded that Post journalist Ben Bagdikian deliver a copy
of the papers to Senator Maurice "Mike" Gravel. The cloak-and-dagger
exchange took place outside the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Gravel intended
to read from the papers during a filibuster of a bill that would extend the
draft. Blocked from filibustering, Gravel instead read from the Pentagon
Papers during a late night meeting of a subcommittee which he chairedofficially
entering the papers in the public realm. Believing that, "Immediate disclosure
of the contents of these papers will change the policy that supports the war,"
Gravel wanted to make the papers widely accessible to the public and sought
a private publisher to distribute them.
Dozens of commercial and university publishing houses rejected Gravel's proposal,
citing near-guaranteed political persecution and a bleak bottom line. Gravel,
one of just two Unitarian Universalists in the Senate, then tried Beacon Press,
a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Beacon's antiwar list
in those days included Howard Zinn's Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal,
Jean-Paul Sartre's On Genocide and Arlo Tatum and Joseph S. Tuchinsky's
Guide to the Draft. Ideologically, Beacon felt compelled to publish and
agreed to take on the Pentagon Papers, despite financial and political
As a result of publishing the papers, President Nixon personally attacked Beacon
Press, the director of the press was subpoenaed to appear at Daniel Ellsberg's
trial, and J. Edgar Hoover approved an FBI subpoena of the entire denomination's
bank records. Beacon Press and Senator Gravel lost their Supreme Court case,
leaving the press vulnerable to prosecution. During the fallout, Beacon received
an outpouring of support from UU congregations across the country, and from
organizations ranging from the Association of American Book Publishers to the
American Library Association.
In June of 1972, the Watergate break-in drew the FBI's attention, effectively
ending the government's campaign of intimidation against Beacon Press. The director
of Beacon Press at the time, Gobin Stair, called the Pentagon Papers
epic, "A watershed event in the denomination's history and a high point
in Beacon's fulfilling its role as a public pulpit for proclaiming Unitarian
Universalist principles." Robert West, then-president of the UUA, said,
"There is no question in my mind that our denomination performed a truly
Relevance to today:
The effects of publishing the Pentagon Papers remain timely: setting
important legal precedents involving constitutionally demarcated congressional
and executive powers; holding accountable an increasingly corporatized publishing
industry that, by kowtowing to political pressure, abdicated editorial responsibility;
drawing the president of the United States out as a power monger, willing to
flout the law to destroy his enemies; exposing U.S. policymaking, often no more
than rubber-stamped racism, which held little regard for the welfare of the
citizens of an occupied nation.
What people said about The Pentagon Papers and
"When [government agents] push Ellsberg and Beacon Press and others around,
they're simply trying to make sure that there'll be no future Pentagon Papers."
"The story of the Pentagon Papers is a chronicle of suppression
of vital decisions to protect the reputations and political hides of men who
worked an amazingly successful scheme of deception on the American people. They
were successful not because they were astute but because the press had become
a frightened, regimented, submissive instrument, fattening on favors from those
in power and forgetting the great tradition of reporting."
Justice William O. Douglas
"We believe that in publishing the full version of the Pentagon Papers
as made public by the Senator last June, we will help reduce the likelihood
of our nation becoming involved in a similar situation."
Robert West, former president of the UUA
"I got a phone call at home from Richard Nixon
he said, 'Gobin, we
have been investigating you around Boston, and we know you are apparently a
pretty nice and smart guy
I hear you are going to do that set of papers
by that guy Gravel'
The result was that as the guy in charge at Beacon,
I was in real trouble. Before we had decided yes or no, we were told not to
Gobin Stair, former director of Beacon Press
"The effect of the harassment of Beacon is intangible
There is no
question that the publishing industry is more aware of government than at any
time since McCarthyism."
Robert L. Bernstein, president and CEO of Random House
"This case is a threat to the entire publishing industry because it provides
a chilling example of how the Government can make any publisher, large or small
but particularly small, hesitate to publish controversial material."
Alexander C. Hoffman, vice president of Doubleday
"I can only hope for the opportunity to do something as daring and courageous
as publishing these critical documents
The story of the Pentagon Papers
is one of my very favorites about this press and what Beacon stands for."
Helene Atwan, current director of Beacon Press
"Beacon Press has consistently shown the kind of civic courage that we
must have for our country to survive as a democracy."
Videos, audio files, documents, and photos:
- General Assembly 2007 Panel: The Pentagon Papers Then and Now: Unitarian
Universalists Confronting Government Secrecy (RealVideo
| Windows Media)
- Interview with Former UUA President
Bob West on the Pentagon Papers, November 21, 2002 (Requires Real Player,
sound starts about 15 seconds into file)
- Interview with Howard Zinn on
the Pentagon Papers, November 21, 2002 (Requires Real Player, sound starts
about 15 seconds into file)
from Senator Mike Gravel to former Beacon Press director Gobin Stair (August
from J. Edgar Hoover to Senator James. L. Buckley on the FBI's investigation
of the UUA and Beacon Press (January 31, 1972)
to the President Nixon in support of the UUA (October 22, 1972)
of support of the UUA and Beacon Press
Zinn and Arnold Tovell on Boston Common during an anti-war protest
Robert N. West, UUA President, and Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) hold
a press conference on Nov. 5, 1971 concerning Beacon Press' publication of
"The Pentagon Papers" and ongoing harassment of the UUA by the FBI.
Photo courtesy Robert N. West.
- Interview with
Arnold Tovell, former Beacon Press editor-in-chief, April 18, 2002